With the dawning of a new year comes a new source of news, insight, and commentary: the Land Desk. It is a newsletter about Place. Namely that place where humanity and the landscape intersect. The geographical center of my coverage will be the Four Corners Country and Colorado Plateau, land of the Ute, Diné, Pueblo, Apache, and San Juan Southern Paiute people. From there, coverage will spread outward into the remainder of the “public-land states” of the Interior West, with excursions to Wyoming to look at the coal and wind-power industries and Nevada to check out water use in Las Vegas and so on.
This is the time and the place for a truth-telling, myth-busting, fair yet sometimes furious journalism like The Land Desk will provide. This is where climate change is coming home to roost in the form of chronic drought, desertification, and raging wildfires. This is where often-toxic politics are playing out on the nation’s public lands. This is the sacrifice zone of the nation’s corporate extractive industries, yet it is also the playground and wilderness-refuge for the rest of the nation and the world. This is the headwaters for so many rivers of the West. And this is where Indigenous peoples’ fight for land-justice is the most potent, whether it be at Bears Ears or Chaco Canyon or Oak Flat.
The Land Desk will provide a voice for this region and a steady current of information, thought, and commentary about a wide range of topics, from climate change to energy to economics to public lands. Most importantly, the information will be contextualized so that we—my readers (and collaborators) and I—can better understand what it all means. Perhaps we can also help chart a better and more sustainable course for the region to follow into the future, to try to realize Wallace Stegner’s characterization of this place as the “native home of hope.”
I’ve essentially been doing the work of the Land Desk for more than two decades. I got my start back in 1996 as the sole reporter and photographer for the weekly Silverton Standard & the Miner. I went from there to High Country News fifteen years ago, and that wonderful publication has nurtured and housed most of my journalism ever since. But after I went freelance four years ago, my role at HCN was gradually diminished. While I have branched out in the years since, writing three books as well as articles for Sierra, The Gulch, Telluride Magazine, Writers on the Range, and so forth, I’ve increasingly run up against what I call the freelancer bottleneck, which is what happens when you produce more content more quickly than you can sell it. That extra content ends up homeless, or swirling around in my brain, or residing in semi-obscurity on my personal website.
I’m not messing around. The Land Desk is by no means a repository for the stories no one wants. It is intended to be the home for the best of my journalism and a place where you can find an unvarnished, unique, deep perspective on some of the most interesting landscapes and communities in the world. My hope is that it will give me the opportunity to write the stories that I’ve long wanted to write and that the region needs. If my hopes are realized, the Land Desk will one day expand and welcome other Western journalists to contribute.
That’s where you come in. In order for this venture to do more than just get off the ground, it needs to pay for itself. In order to do that, it needs paying subscribers (i.e., you). In other words, I’m asking for your support.
For the low price of $6/month ($60/year), subscribers will receive a minimum of three dispatches each week, including:
1 Land Bulletin (news, analysis, commentary, essay, long-form narrative, or investigative piece);
1 Data Dump (anything from a set of numbers with context to full-on data-visual stories); and,
1 News Roundup, which will highlight a sample of the great journalism happening around the West;
Reaction to and contextualization of breaking news, as needed.
Additionally, I’ll be throwing in all sorts of things, from on-the-ground reporter notebooks to teasers from upcoming books to the occasional fiction piece to throwbacks from my journalistic archives.
Can’t afford even that? No worries. Just sign up for a free subscription and get occasional dispatches, or contact me and we can work something out. Or maybe you’ve got some extra change jangling around in your pocket and are really hungry for this sort of journalism? Then become a Founding Member and, in addition to feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, you’ll receive some extra swag.
I just launched the Land Desk earlier this week and already subscribers are getting content! Today I published a Data Dump on a southwestern indicator river setting an alarming record. Also this week, look for a detailed analysis tracing the roots of the recent invasion of the Capitol to the Wise Use movement of the early 1990s. In the not-so distant future I’ll be publishing “Carbon Capture Convolution,” about the attempt to keep a doomed coal-fired power plant running by banking on questionable technology and sketchy federal tax credits. Plus the Land Desk will have updated national park visitor statistics, a look back on how the pandemic affected Western economies, and forward-looking pieces on what a Biden administration will mean for public lands.
Please subscribe to The Land Desk. Click here to read some of Thompson’s work that has shown up on Coyote Gulch over the years.
From Conservation Colorado (Garrett Garner-Wells):
New polling released today highlighted climate change as the top issue in Colorado’s upcoming presidential primary, 10 points higher than health care and 15 points higher than preventing gun violence.
The survey of likely Democratic presidential primary voters conducted by Global Strategies Group found that nearly all likely primary voters think climate change is already impacting or will impact their families (91%), view climate change as a very serious problem or a crisis (84%), and want to see their leaders take action within the next year (85%). And by a nearly three-to-one margin, likely primary voters prefer a candidate with a plan to take action on climate change starting on Day One of their term over a candidate who has not pledged to act starting on Day One (74% – 26%).
Additionally, the survey found that among likely primary voters:
85% would be more likely to support a candidate who will move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy;
95% would be more likely to support a candidate who will combat climate change by protecting and restoring forests; and,
76% would be more likely to support a candidate who will phase out extraction of oil, gas, and goal on public lands by 2030.
These responses are unsurprising given that respondents believed that a plan to move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy will have a positive impact on future generations of their family (81%), the quality of the air we breathe (93%), and the health of families like theirs (88%).
Finally, likely primary voters heard a description of Colorado’s climate action plan to reduce pollution and the state’s next steps to achieve reductions of at least 50 percent by 2030 and at least 90 percent by 2050. Based on that statement, 91% of respondents agreed that the Air Quality Control Commission should take timely action to create rules that guarantee that the state will meet its carbon reduction targets.
On the second day of 2019, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted out his resignation letter to President Donald Trump. After less than two years in office, he claimed to have “restored public lands ‘for the benefit & enjoyment of the people,’ improved public access & shall never be held hostage again for our energy needs.”
That appears to be Zinke’s view of the legacy his abbreviated tenure will leave on the Interior Department’s more than 500 million acres of land and roughly 70,000 employees. Critics might interpret his garbled syntax as a confession: that he turned over public land to industry — pushing oil and gas leases in sensitive habitat, rescinding environmental protections and shrinking national monuments. But what, really, did Zinke accomplish?
The answer: Probably not much. The methane Zinke allowed gas drillers to flare can’t be unburnt, the oil and gas leases he sold are probably good for at least 10 years, and the institutional knowledge of departed agency workers will be difficult to restore. Still, the flippant way Zinke executed his many rollbacks and policy changes leaves them vulnerable to be overturned, either by the next administration, Congress or the courts.
“The cumulative landscape impact is significant,” said Brett Hartl, the government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “(But) I am optimistic that almost everything they’ve done can be undone. We can win in court because most of the things they are doing violate the laws they are addressing.”
Zinke — a Navy veteran, former oil pipeline functionary and Montana congressman — was not coy about his determination to achieve something he called “energy dominance.” Nor was he shy about favoring industry over all other public-lands users. Following the lead and executive orders of President Donald Trump, Zinke cut environmental regulations, shrank Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, and censored climate science while pushing out agency scientists and staff. By reducing fracking safeguards, slashing methane waste regulations and cutting protections for migratory birds, Zinke’s Interior Department has made it easier to develop oil and gas on public lands.
Yet only a handful of rules — which create policies that require a lengthy and public process to undo — have been finalized in the last two years. Many of the actions taken by the administration have been done through secretarial orders, internal memos and staffing decisions, many of which can be reversed on day one of a new administration.
For example, policies that have lead to the censoring of climate science could be immediately discarded. New leadership at Interior could also terminate every politically appointed agency head and staffer. For instance, Zinke’s childhood friend Steve Howke, a former credit union executive with no Interior Department experience, would no longer be in charge of reviewing the department’s grant applications.
From a staffing standpoint, Zinke’s legacy will come less from temporary political appointees than from the loss of rank-and-file workers. The departures of career staffers, who left after questionable reassignments, interference in climate research, and policies that incentivized early retirements, will make it harder to rebuild a workforce that is shrinking despite increased visitation on public lands.
The legal actions of the Trump administration’s Interior Department are also vulnerable in federal courts. “We see a pattern of attempts to suspend compliance with agency rules” that doesn’t adhere to the Administrative Procedures Act, said Hana Vizcarra, the staff attorney for Harvard Law’s Environmental and Energy Law Program.
As Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., takes the lead oversight role as the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Trump’s opponents could gain more leverage. “Information from oversight in the house could give ammunition to litigants or spur interest in further lawsuits,” Vizcarra said. If, for example, the committee unveiled new information that showed rules were made at the request of regulated industries, “it could impact what a court considers reasonable or arbitrary,” and undermine the agency’s ability to defend its actions, she said.
In the end, Zinke will probably be remembered more for his hat collection, bluster, multiple scandals and ethics investigations and vacations taken on the taxpayer dime than for any policies he implemented, good or bad. One thing is certain, though: The drive for “energy dominance” at the expense of the environment will endure for as long as Trump remains president, particularly under the leadership of now acting-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who is generally seen to be more competent than Zinke.
“In some sense, Ryan Zinke really was Trump’s mini-me in terms of flailing around and fumbling very loudly, but really not having a clear policy direction other than deregulation and handing over federal authority to manage public lands,” said Erik Molvar, the executive director of Western Watersheds, a conservation group that opposes grazing and energy development on public land. “Now, we could be turning over the helm to cold-blooded professionals who are industry lobbyists that really know how to get things done.”
Carl Segerstrom is a contributing editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, Washington. Email him at email@example.com.
Scientists described the quickening rate of carbon dioxide emissions in stark terms, comparing it to a “speeding freight train” and laying part of the blame on an unexpected surge in the appetite for oil as people around the world not only buy more cars but also drive them farther than in the past — more than offsetting any gains from the spread of electric vehicles.
“We’ve seen oil use go up five years in a row,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford and an author of one of two studies published Wednesday. “That’s really surprising.”
Worldwide, carbon emissions are expected to increase by 2.7 percent in 2018, according to the new research, which was published by the Global Carbon Project, a group of 100 scientists from more than 50 academic and research institutions and one of the few organizations to comprehensively examine global emissions numbers. Emissions rose 1.6 percent last year, the researchers said, ending a three-year plateau.
Worldwide, carbon emissions are expected to increase by 2.7 percent in 2018, according to the new research, which was published by the Global Carbon Project, a group of 100 scientists from more than 50 academic and research institutions and one of the few organizations to comprehensively examine global emissions numbers. Emissions rose 1.6 percent last year, the researchers said, ending a three-year plateau.
After a slew of climate-friendly ballot initiatives went down in flames on Election Day in Arizona, Colorado and Washington, greens needed something to cheer them up. Days later the good news came in the form of a possibly deal-killing setback to a controversial oil pipeline: A federal judge sent the Keystone XL proposal back to the drawing board because it failed to comply with federal environmental regulations.
First proposed in 2008, the 1,200-mile pipeline would carry as much as 830,000 barrels of heavy crude oil per day from Alberta oil sands to Steele City, Nebraska, en route to Gulf Coast refineries. In 2015, President Barack Obama denied a permit for the pipeline, citing climate concerns; but in 2017, President Donald Trump reversed the denial, allowing the project to move forward.
The Indigenous Environment Network then sued the Trump administration, claiming that it erred by relying on an outdated analysis of the pipeline’s environmental impacts. On Nov. 8, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on several issues, vacated the 2017 approval decision and ordered the State Department to supplement the Environmental Impact Statement, completed in 2014. That additional analysis must include a “hard look” at the effects of current oil prices, potential increases in greenhouse gas emissions, possible damage to cultural resources and new data on oil spills.
A major sticking point in the 2014 impact statement is its prediction for how the pipeline would contribute to climate change. In short, the analysis concludes that although burning the oil carried by the pipeline would emit about 168 million tons of carbon each year, constructing the pipeline would result in no new greenhouse gas emissions.
The conclusion assumes that even without the pipeline, the same amount of oil would get to market by some other means. That’s because as long as oil prices remain at or above $100 per barrel, oil producers are willing to spend the extra cash to ship their bitumen — the waxy crude that comes from oil sands — via rail. When the analysis was completed, the price of oil was closing in on $150 per barrel.
But oil prices did not stay high. Just months after the impact statement was published, global prices crashed, falling below $40 per barrel and plunging most oil sands mining operations into the red. That radically altered the climate impact calculus of the pipeline. When oil sinks below $75 per barrel or so, it no longer makes economic sense to pay to move it by train, meaning production will fall. The Keystone XL, however, would decrease shipping costs, helping to keep the oil sands viable. That would lead to an increase in production and concurrent rise in greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, independent analyses have found that Keystone XL could also up emissions by displacing other, less carbon-intensive forms of crude, and by adding enough oil to the global market to lower prices, thereby boosting consumption — and emissions. Both scenarios were discounted in the original impact statement.
It was during the price slump that Obama put the kibosh on the pipeline. Today, domestic prices have bounced back up to about $60 per barrel, still far below the level at which the pipeline would result in no net increase of greenhouse gas emissions.
Also missing from the 2014 analysis is a full accounting of potential impacts to cultural resources along the pipeline’s route. The analysis identified hundreds of cultural sites, but also said that over 1,000 acres remained unsurveyed. Apparently the surveys had not been completed when the 2017 approval was made.
And then there are the potential oil spills. The 2014 analysis predicted that the new pipeline would not spill more than once every 10 years. Data from federal pipeline regulators, however, suggest this is a lowball estimate. The Dakota Access Pipeline and its southern counterpart, ETCO, for example, have experienced 11 spills since they went into operation in 2017. Furthermore, the National Academy of Sciences in 2015 published a study finding that spilled bitumen “… starts to turn into a heavy, viscous, sediment-laden residue that cannot easily be recovered using traditional response techniques.”
All of this information must be taken into account and addressed before the project can be permitted, Judge Morris said in his recent ruling. That could take years. The Trump administration has indicated that it will appeal the ruling.
Morris directed his harshest scolding toward the Trump administration for reversing its predecessor’s policy and dismissing the environmental concerns without adequate reasoning. In so doing, he could have been referring to any number of Trump’s regulatory rollbacks. “Even when reversing a policy after an election, an agency may not simply discard prior factual findings without a reasoned explanation,” Morris wrote. “An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate.”
Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a letter to the editor.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Petroteq Energy, formerly MCW Energy Group, has built a facility at Asphalt Ridge outside Vernal and is using what it says are benign solvents to produce oil from oil sand deposits. The company says its approach uses no water, produces no waste or greenhouse gas and doesn’t require high temperatures.
It is working to ramp up production to the plant’s capacity of 1,000 barrels a day.
The company said this month it received a small-source exemption from the Utah Division of Air Quality for its facility, allowing it to begin sales. It said in a news release that it got the exemption because the plant’s estimated emissions are less than the level for which a permit is needed, “further confirmation that Petroteq’s process is an environmentally conscious method of oil extraction.”
Oil sands are also known as tar sands or bituminous sands, and contain a heavy oil also described as asphalt or bitumen.
Petroteq says its leases have 93 million barrels of estimated oil resource. Eastern Utah is home to the largest oil sands resources in the country, with resource estimates running as high as 32 billion barrels…
Petroteq’s project is at Asphalt Ridge, which the federal Bureau of Land Management has reported has been the target of oil/tar sand exploration and development efforts as early as the 1920s, when Vernal paved its streets from Asphalt Ridge deposits.
Work there included a plant that used hot water to extract oil in the 1930s. Hot water also is used in Canadian tar sands development that also incorporates tailing ponds. “Our ‘Asphalt Ridge’ asset has (from time to time) caught the attention of major oil companies going back 70 years. But nobody has been able to unlock its resources in a financially sound and environmentally friendly manner until the Petroteq team and its proprietary technology came along,” David Sealock, Petroteq’s chief executive officer, said in a recent news release announcing the company’s start of commercial production.
The company says its focus is on development and implementation of proprietary technologies for environmentally safe production of heavy oil from oil sands, oil shale and shallow oil deposits. Northwest Colorado and northeastern Utah are home to world-class deposits of oil shale, rock containing kerogen-like hydrocarbon deposits.
The efforts of companies like Petroteq continue to be criticized by groups including Utah Tar Sands Resistance, which says on its website, “The production of tar sands in Utah is a story of false claims and impossible promises with a long history of failed companies, bankruptcies and name changes.”
A federal judge in Montana on Thursday blocked all further work on the Keystone XL pipeline, saying the Trump administration had failed to justify its decision to reverse a prior decision by the Obama administration and to approve the tar sands oil delivery project.
It was a striking victory for environmental advocates who have spent over a decade fighting the project to carry tar sands oil from Canada to markets in the United States and had turned the KXL line into a litmus test for climate action.
Environmental advocates, landowners along the pipeline’s route and indigenous rights groups hailed the ruling. They called it a major setback—if not a permanent defeat—for the long-contested crude oil pipeline. The Obama administration had determined that the pipeline was not in the national interest, and President Barack Obama had cited its potential climate impact in rejecting it.
Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:
Gov. John Hickenlooper today joined governors from California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington in signing a letter committing to upholding the standards set forth in the Clean Air and Water Acts, despite changes to federal standards in Washington D.C.
“We will not run from our responsibility to protect and improve clean air and water for future generations,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “We know it will take collaboration just like this to make it happen. Changes at the federal level will not distract from our goals.”
Colorado continues efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as outlined by the state’s Colorado Climate Plan. Last week Colorado submitted comments pushing back on the Trump administration’s proposal to weaken federal auto standards. State agencies continue work on finalizing a low emissions vehicle plan by the end of the year.
In their letter, the governors wrote “Each of our states has a unique administrative and regulatory structure established to protect clean air and clean water, but we share a commitment to science-based standards that protect human health and the environment. As governors, we pledge to be diligent environmental stewards of our natural resources to ensure that current and future generations can enjoy the bounty of clean air, clean water and the highest quality of life.”
Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:
As the world gets hotter and more crowded, our engines continue to pump out dirty emissions, and half the world has no access to clean fuels or technologies (e.g. stoves, lamps), the very air we breathe is growing dangerously polluted: nine out of ten people now breathe polluted air, which kills 7 million people every year. The health effects of air pollution are serious – one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution. This is an equivalent effect to that of smoking tobacco, and much higher than, say, the effects of eating too much salt.
Air pollution is hard to escape, no matter how rich an area you live in. It is all around us. Microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain.
FromThe Guardian (Damian Carrington and Matthew Taylor):
Simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more, but ‘a smog of complacency pervades the planet’, says Dr Tedros Adhanom
Air pollution is the “new tobacco”, the head of the World Health Organization has warned, saying the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more.
Over 90% of the world’s population suffers toxic air and research is increasingly revealing the profound impacts on the health of people, especially children.
“The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the ‘new tobacco’ – the toxic air that billions breathe every day,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general. “No one, rich or poor, can escape air pollution. It is a silent public health emergency.”
Click through and read the whole article from The New York Times (Auden Schendler and Andrew P. Jones). Here’s an excerpt:
Mr. Schendler is a climate activist and businessman. Mr. Jones creates climate simulations for the nonprofit Climate Interactive.
On Monday, the world’s leading climate scientists are expected to release a report on how to protect civilization by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Given the rise already in the global temperature average, this critical goal is 50 percent more stringent than the current target of 2 degrees Celsius, which many scientists were already skeptical we could meet. So we’re going to have to really want it, and even then it will be tough.
The world would need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions faster than has ever been achieved, and do it everywhere, for 50 years. Northern European countries reduced emissions about 4 to 5 percent per year in the 1970s. We’d need reductions of 6 to 9 percent. Every year, in every country, for half a century.
We’d need to spread the world’s best climate practices globally — like electric cars in Norway, energy efficiency in California, land protection in Costa Rica, solar and wind power in China, vegetarianism in India, bicycle use in the Netherlands.
We’d face opposition the whole way. To have a prayer of 1.5 degrees Celsius, we would need to leave most of the remaining coal, oil and gas underground, compelling the Exxon Mobils and Saudi Aramcos to forgo anticipated revenues of over $33 trillion over the next 25 years.
Bill passed by parliament means more than €300m shares in coal, oil, peat and gas will be sold ‘as soon as practicable’
The Republic of Ireland will become the world’s first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament.
The state’s €8bn national investment fund will be required to sell all investments in coal, oil, gas and peat “as soon as is practicable”, which is expected to mean within five years. Norway’s huge $1tn sovereign wealth fund has only partially divested from fossil fuels, targeting some coal companies, and is still considering its oil and gas holdings.
The fossil fuel divestment movement has grown rapidly and trillions of dollars of investment funds have been divested, including large pension funds and insurers, cities such as New York, churches and universities.
Supporters of divestment say existing fossil fuel resources are already far greater than can be burned without causing catastrophic climate change and that exploring and producing more fossil fuels is therefore morally wrong and economically risky… [ed. emphasis mine]
The Irish fossil fuel divestment bill was passed in the lower house of parliament on Thursday and it is expected to pass rapidly through the upper house, meaning it could become law before the end of the year. The Irish state investment fund holds more than €300m in fossil fuel investments in 150 companies.
“The [divestment] movement is highlighting the need to stop investing in the expansion of a global industry which must be brought into managed decline if catastrophic climate change is to be averted,” said Thomas Pringle, the independent member of parliament who introduced the bill. “Ireland by divesting is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short term vested interests.”
Éamonn Meehan, executive director of international development charity Trócaire, said: “Today the Oireachtas [Irish parliament] has sent a powerful signal to the international community about the need to speed up the phase-out of fossil fuels.”
The bill defines a fossil fuel company as a company that derives 20% or more of its revenue from exploration, extraction or refinement of fossil fuels. The bill also allows investment in Irish fossil fuel companies if this funds their move away from fossil fuels.
Gerry Liston at Global Legal Action Network, who drafted the bill, said: “Governments will not meet their obligations under the Paris agreement on climate change if they continue to financially sustain the fossil fuel industry. Countries the world over must now urgently follow Ireland’s lead and divest from fossil fuels.”
The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.
Tubing Boulder Creek
Here’s the release (Barb Halpin, Public Information Officer, Ben Irwin, Amy Markwell, Valentina Stackl):
Costs of climate change impacts estimated to top one hundred million dollars by 2050
Today, the Colorado communities of Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder—with legal support from EarthRights International, Niskanen Center, and other co-counsel—filed a lawsuit against Suncor and ExxonMobil (“Exxon”), two oil companies with significant responsibility for climate change. The communities have demanded that these companies pay their fair share of the costs associated with climate change impacts, so that the costs do not fall disproportionately on taxpayers.
Climate change affects fragile high-altitude ecosystems and hits at the heart of these communities’ local economies, affecting roads and bridges, parks and forests, buildings, farming and agriculture, the ski industry, and public open space. Adapting to such a wide range of impacts requires local governments to undertake unprecedented levels of planning and spending. Over the next three decades, these communities will face at least one hundred million dollars in costs to deal with the impacts of climate change caused by the use of fossil fuel products like those made and sold by Suncor and Exxon.
Suncor and Exxon have known about the costly consequences of fossil fuel use for more than 50 years. Yet they continued to promote and sell their products, while recklessly deceiving the public and policymakers about the dangers.
In the past year, nine coastal communities in California and New York filed climate lawsuits against fossil fuel companies. This is the first such lawsuit in Colorado—or anywhere in the U.S. interior—aimed at holding fossil fuel companies accountable for paying their fair share of the costs of climate change.
“Climate change impacts are already happening and they are only going to get worse. In fact, Colorado is one of the fastest warming states in the nation. Climate change is not just about sea level rise. It affects all of us in the middle of the country as well.” – Elise Jones, Boulder County Commissioner
“We are a small rural county dependent on tourism and farming and ranching. A natural disaster here could wipe out our reserves. Unabated fossil fuel production is already impacting our climate. These changes will grow more intense over time.” – Hilary Cooper, San Miguel County Commissioner.
“Our communities and our taxpayers should not shoulder the cost of climate change adaptation alone. These oil companies need to pay their fair share.” – Suzanne Jones, Mayor, City of Boulder
“For over 50 years, Suncor and Exxon have known that fossil fuels would cause severe climate impacts. To enhance their own profits, they concealed this knowledge and spread doubt about science they knew to be correct. Now, communities all over this country are left to foot the bill.” – Marco Simons, EarthRights International
“Future generations and those least responsible for causing climate change will bear the brunt of the impacts. We need to shift the costs back to these companies that have profited off their demands for unabated pollution in the face of global climate destabilization.” – Micah Parkin (350 Colorado)
“The fossil fuel industry has normalized oil and gas in our lives while concealing the dangers. It’s time for a cultural shift. In the future, when we talk about ‘energy,’ we should be referring to renewable energy, not fossil fuels.” – Rebecca Dickson, Sierra Club
“For hundreds of years, the common law has insisted that people who damage property should be held liable for their actions, and this case seeks no more than to protect property rights and the rule of law.” – David Bookbinder, Niskanen Center.
For years, these Colorado communities have taken action to reduce their own carbon footprints. All three have adopted ambitious CO2 emission reduction targets, passed budgets for climate work, conducted greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories, and established incentive programs for residents. Despite these efforts, taxpayers already face the rising costs of adapting to a changing climate.
Suncor and Exxon are two of the world’s largest contributors to climate change and have been particularly active in Colorado. Fossil fuel combustion accounted for nearly 80 percent of all GHG emissions between 1970 and 2010.
Exxon is the largest investor-owned fossil fuel producer in history. Suncor is one of the world’s largest independent energy companies. Both are active in Colorado.
Suncor’s U.S. operations are based in Denver, Colorado; the company supplies about 35 percent of the state’s gasoline and diesel fuel demand. Suncor and Exxon work closely together in Colorado to market and sell fossil fuels.
The two companies jointly own the majority of Syncrude Canada Ltd., one of the largest developer of Canada’s tar sands.
Together, Suncor and Exxon are responsible for billions of tons of CO2 emissions. Their future carbon footprint is likely to be enormous, as well: both companies plan to expand fossil fuel production through tar sands, fracking, and other means.
For more than 50 years, these oil companies have known about the harm that their products would cause to communities, but have chosen to continue business as usual. These companies have long known about the risks of their own activities. In 1968, industry scientists warned them that “significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000” due to rising GHGs, and that “the potential damage to our environment could be severe.”
By the 1970s, Suncor and Exxon knew with high certainty that their products were dangerous and that inaction would cause dramatic, even catastrophic, changes to the climate. Exxon even took measures to protect itself from climate change: for example, the company adapted its own facilities to protect from sea level rise.
Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder have partnered together to represent communities on the Front Range and the Western Slope and require these oil companies to help pay for the costs of climate change on local communities in Colorado. Because of the magnitude of the financial impacts, these communities feel like they have little choice but to bring this litigation on behalf of their residents.
EVs still small share of market share, but that could change
Remember the riddle about the lily pond that begins with one lily, the number doubling each day? The pond seems empty even when it has become an eighth filled. But you can do the math for the three days beyond.
That riddle comes to mind when Will Toor talks about the adoption rate for electric vehicles in Colorado. Today they constitute just 10,000 or so among the 5 million-plus cars, trucks, and motorcycles. But the growth rate for EVs has averaged 41 percent since 2012, and this year sales are up 73 percent over the same months of last year.
Toor, the transportation program director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, sees this progression as evidence for a coming tipping point in transportation electrification. Like the lilies, this automotive pond will soon look very different.
“We are clearly headed toward lower-carbon electricity, and we now seem to be getting to the tipping point in electrification of transportation,” says Toor, who has a doctorate in physics. Sales will double within three years at this rate of growth. With certain policy supports, Colorado could have a million EVs by 2030, he adds.
Colorado now has the 6th largest market share of EVs in the country, behind California and other West Coast states, Hawaii, and Vermont. Fort Collins, Boulder, and the Roaring Fork Valley stand out as early adopters, says Toor.
To be sure, there are some who remain skeptical, seeing more measured and incremental growth unlike the quick adoption of smart phones and other new wrinkles in technology. EVs, they say, do not obviously represent a transformative improvement for consumers as compared to gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles.
State governments, however, want to smooth the way for EVs, creating charging infrastructure to create comfort for potential buyers. Colorado agencies propose to spend $10.3 million of the state’s $68 million share of the Volkswagen settlement for charging stations or fueling stations for zero-emission passenger cars and trucks. The settlement is a result of Volkswagen’s admission that it tampered with its diesel cars to allow more emissions than permitted by the Clean Air Act.
In anticipation of that settlement, Colorado a year ago was moving to join Utah and Nevada in creating charging infrastructure on interstate highways—and, in some places, beyond. Soon, it will be possible to drive from Kansas to the Pacific Ocean with some sort of fast-charging infrastructure guaranteed about every 50 miles. But there are still gaps, such as between Denver and Summit County.
Last year, Colorado also released a tiered program for implementation of electric charging stations and other alternative fuels on secondary highways, such as along U.S. 285 between Denver and Buena Vista and along U.S. 36 between Denver and Estes Park. Other corridors, including U.S. 40 and U.S. 50, are also being targeted for alternative fueling stations.
More policy supports may be on the way as advisors to Gov. John Hickenlooper put together strategies to support the governor’s executive order, issued July 11, “supporting Colorado’s clean energy transition.”
The order directs state agencies to develop a statewide electric vehicle plan by Jan. 1 to build out key charging corridors that “will facilitate economic development and boost tourism across the state while reducing harmful air pollution.”
Denver, Salt Lake City, and other cities have also identified electrification of transportation as crucial to achieving their greenhouse gas reduction goals. Denver is aiming for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050.
In Salt Lake City, vehicle electrification is seen as a crucial strategy for addressing the pollution that badly fouls the air during winter. Temperature inversions trap local pollution in the valley, leaving many of the one million residents of the metropolitan area wheezing, hacking, and scratching their eyes.
“It’s absolutely miserable,” says Nick Norris, communities and neighborhoods planning director. The pollution is also unhealthy, exacerbating asthma and even causing spikes in heart attacks. Medical authorities have attributed 1,000 to 2,000 premature deaths to the air pollution.
Transportation is the single largest source of the pollution, followed by exhausts from heating buildings, according to analysis by the state government. Electric power plants are located well away from Salt Lake.
This clear and obvious problem of pollution is causing more rapid acceptance of electric vehicles in the Salt Lake Valley, says Norris. It also fits with the goals of the city to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and home heating 80 percent by 2040.
Rocky Mountain Power, the electrical utility for Salt Lake City as well as Park City and Moab, supports this transition with installation of charging stations. And why shouldn’t it? Electric cars represent new demand even as improved energy efficiency has leveled off and even caused declines from other sectors. “It’s a different world out there than it was only a few years ago,” said Cindy Crane, chief executive of Rocky Mountain Power at the Western Power Summit last week.
Utah now leads the nation in percentage growth in EV sales, followed by Nevada, North Carolina, and Colorado. About 1.2 percent of all cars in Colorado are now electric, compared to more than 4 percent of all cars in California.
Wyoming, too, doesn’t want to be left behind. It joined with the effort to put electric charging infrastructure along major highways in concert with other Western states, despite the lack of current demand. Wyoming Gov. Brad Mead, at at the Center for the New Energy Economy conference in Fort Collins this week, characterized it as a chicken-and-egg situation. But given the importance of tourism in Wyoming, he said, “we don’t want to be left behind. We don’t want to be the gap state.”
Federal tax credits of $7,500 are available everywhere, but Colorado buyers have an additional incentive of $5,000 in state tax credits of, bringing an electric car so ld by Boulder Nissan, one of the West’s busiest electric-car dealers, down to about $22,500.
Boulder Nissan’s Nigel Zeid says tax credits will not always be needed to foster sales of electric vehicles. “This is like when you have a kid in college,” said Zeid, a member of the Colorado Electric Vehicle Coalition, a state-sponsored group. “Once you’re out (of college), you’re on your own.”
Zeid also sees range concerns diminishing. The Chevy Bolt has 238 miles of range, and Tesla’s Model X has 295 miles of range (but at a cost of $98,500). But many more models are coming with 150 miles of range, satisfactory for nearly all daily commutes. “Now that you have 150 to 200 mile range, range is not really an issue,” he says.
A Federal Highway Administration map shows existing fueling infrastructure for Colorado, Utah, and other states, not just for electricity but also hydrogen and natural gas. However, the map has been outdated in recent weeks by the announcement that Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Idaho will be joining in the interstate infrastructure.
A case can be made that hydrogen still represents the fuel of the future. California now has 31 fueling stations and plans more. Colorado, perhaps surprisingly, also has some hydrogen fueling stations, all in the metropolitan area. Hydrogen fuel is energy dense and can be produced from water through a variety of fuels, both renewables and natural gas.
But U.S. car manufacturers are now rushing to produce electric cars. General Motors several weeks ago announced plans to embrace an all-electric, zero-emissions future, leaving behind the internal combustion engine “General Motors believes the future is all-electric,” says Mark Reuss, the company’s head of product. Wired Magazine reports that GM plans almost two-dozen fully electric models by 2023.
Other car manufacturers have also announced plans to offer new EV models. China and India are embracing electrified transportation as they develop their economies and try to tame emissions that have fouled skies and scarred lungs. China, Britain, and France all plan to ban sales of vehicles powered by fossil fuels but have not set dates.
Some see the transition to electric vehicles happening more slowly.
“I am not sure they (EVs) will come quite as fast as some people say,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at the Western Power Summit on Oct. 24. But one indication that it will occur sooner, he went on to say, is the announcement by GM of its robust commitment to EV models.
Some bumps in the road of this transition. “Certainly, there will be some issues around lithium and cobalt, two constituents of batteries. There could be some supply challenges,” says Toor, a former mayor of Boulder. “But I don’t think they will derail electrification.”
Discounts yields 42 EVs and hybrids in group buy
From April through June, a group buy for electric vehicles was organized in the Pitkin, Garfield, and Eagle county areas (Aspen, Glenwood Springs, and Vail).
Dealers in Boulder and Loveland, plus two in Glenwood Springs, were enlisted to offer discounts on top of the $12,500 state and federal tax credits. The best deal was offered by Boulder Nissan, which offered an $8,000 discount on Leafs. Other dealers offered somewhat lesser discounts for all electric and hybrid models.
The goal of 50 EV sales in the three-county area fell short: 42 were sold. However, the goal for 25 percent expansion of charging stations by the end of this year will almost certainly be exceeded. A recent report predicted an 85 percent increase.
The program was sponsored by Clean Energy Economy for the Region. It was based on similar group buys in the Fort Collins and Boulder areas in 2015 and 2016.
Notable was the support of Holy Cross Energy, the co-operative that serves most of the three counties. Holy Cross offered rebates of $200 to EV purchasers.
Can e-bikes help decongest the highway to Yellowstone?
JACKSON, Wyo. – Now come e-bikes and the question whether they can ease the congestion of cars found in ski towns like Jackson.
The specific question at hand is whether the e-bikes should be allowed on the local trails normally frequented by pedestrians and bicycle riders. Or should they instead be restricted to streets? Jackson town officials will soon be talking with their counterparts in Teton County, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
An important distinction, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Act, is 20 mph. That’s the maximum assisted speed when powered solely by the motor of a low-speed electric bike. However, there are some ways to use a larger motor, allowing an e-bike to go more than 30 mph without pedaling.
Brian Schilling, coordinator for Teton County Pathways, told Jackson town officials recently that e-bikes have been called a game-changer. He sees great potential for their application in Jackson during warm months.
“It changes the way people get around town, especially during the busy summer months when they don’t want to be sitting in traffic on Broadway,” he said, referring to the street that is the main street in Jackson and the primary route for many thousands of travelers going to and from Yellowstone National Park.
Crested Butte may slowly ease into paid parking
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte is planning to take a year to gather public feedback before moving ahead with paid parking in the town’s interior.
The town has gone along with a committee’s recommendation and has allocated $45,000 for the year-long study and a community outreach effort.
“The committee feels parking in town is ‘free and easy’ and we can’t build our way out of the problem,” said Bob Nevins, town planner for Crested Butte, according to a story reported by the Crested Butte News. “I want to get people out of their cars,” said Jackson Petito, a council member.
The plan calls for paid parking along Elk Avenue, the town’s main street, and other adjoining areas. Residents will get permits. The start-up costs if the town decides to go forward will be $220,000, or about the same price as paving a parking lot.
About Allen Best
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
Solar power is clean, affordable and popular with the American people. The amount of solar energy currently installed in the U.S. can power one in 14 American homes; that amount is expected to triple within the next ve years.
The growth of American solar energy in the past decade has been the result of smart solar-friendly state policies like net metering and tax incentives for solar infrastructure, putting clean energy within nancial reach of millions more Americans. The recent appointment of officials favored by electric utilities and fossil fuel interests to key positions within the Department of Energy and other federal agencies makes the preservation of strong solar policies in the states more important than ever.
In 2017, utilities continue to chip away at key state policies that put rooftop solar on the map in the United States, making it harder for Americans to invest in clean energy.
This report documents 20 fossil fuel-backed groups and electric utilities running some of the nation’s most aggressive campaigns to slow the growth of solar energy in 12 states, including eight attempts to reduce net metering bene ts and seven attempts to create demand charges for customers with solar power. Citizens and policy-makers must be aware of the tools that utilities are using to undermine solar energy across America and redouble their commitment to strong policies that move the nation toward a clean energy future.
A national network of utility interest groups and fossil fuel-backed think tanks has provided the funding, model legislation and political cover to discourage the growth of rooftop solar power.
• The Edison Electric Institute, the trade group that represents U.S. investor-owned electric utilities, launched the current wave of attacks on solar in 2012. Since then, EEI has worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council to create model legislation to repeal state renewable electricity standards and attack net metering.
• The American Legislative Exchange Council also provides utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislators, and its anti-net metering policy resolution has inspired legislation in states like Washington and Utah.
• The Koch brothers have provided funding to the national fight against solar by funneling tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonpro ts. The Koch-funded campaign organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has carried out anti-solar organizing exorts.
• The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) is a Houston-based front group for the utility and fossil fuel industry, representing companies like Florida Power and Light, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell Oil. CEA has spent resources and shipped representatives across the country to help utilities fight their battles in states like Florida, Indiana, Maine and Utah.
• The state industry group Indiana Energy Association successfully lobbied on behalf of the state’s biggest electric utilities to end net metering, replacing it instead with a new solar policy that limits consumer compensation for generating rooftop power.
At the state level, electric utilities have used the support provided by national anti-solar interests, as well as their own ample resources, to attack key solar energy policies.
• In Florida, Florida Power and Light, Gulf Power Electric, Tampa Electric Company and Duke Energy, the largest utility in the U.S., spent millions of dollars funding the front group, Consumers for Smart Solar, which was the primary backer of a failed 2016 ballot initiative that would have restricted rooftop solar growth. In 2017, Florida Power and Light drafted language for a new bill to restrict solar growth in Florida.
• Two major Arizona utilities – Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project – have success- fully pushed for anti-rooftop solar policies. Arizona Public Service, the biggest utility in Arizona, has also been accused of improperly cultivating in influence with the state commission that regulates utilities and funneling dark money into recent commissioner elections.
• In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power tried once again to eliminate net metering and charge additional fees to its 20,000 customers that generate rooftop power. Public outcry from ratepayers and the solar industry forced Rocky Mountain Power to settle, grandfathering all current solar customers into net metering.
• In Texas, El Paso Electric renewed its past attempt to create a separate, and more expensive, rate class for solar customers. In 2015, the utility spent $3.1 million on filing and negotiating fees, an amount ultimately charged to ratepayers, before dropping the proposal, only to pick it up again this year.
• In 2015, Nevada Energy successfully campaigned the Nevada utilities commission to eliminate net metering, a move that e ectively halted the growth of rooftop solar in its service territory for two years. After widespread public protest, state legislators e ectively reinstated net metering in 2017.
As of mid-2017, there were at least 90 ongoing policy actions in U.S. states with the potential to a ect the growth of rooftop generation, such as limits on net metering or new utility fees that make solar power less a affordable.
State decision-makers should resist utility and fossil fuel industry in influence, and reject policies such as
• Elimination of, restrictions on, or unfair caps on net metering;
• Discriminatory surcharges or tariffs for solar customers;
• Utility rate designs that discourage solar adoption;
• Unnecessary regulatory burdens on solar energy; and
• Rollbacks of renewable electricity standards.
In addition, state leaders should embrace ambitious goals for solar energy and adopt policies that will help meet them, including:
• Considering the bene ts of distributed solar energy to the grid, to ratepayers and to society in any rate making or policy decisions about solar energy;
• Implementing strong net metering and interconnection standards, which enable many customers to meet their own electricity needs with solar power;
• Encouraging community shared solar projects and virtual net metering, which can expand solar access to more customers;
• Enacting or expanding solar or distributed renewable carve-outs and renewable electricity standards;
• Enabling financing mechanisms to allow for greater solar access to businesses and residents;
• Allowing companies other than utilities to sell or lease solar to residents and businesses; and
• Making smart investments to move toward a more intelligent electric grid that will enable distributed sources of energy such as solar power to play a larger role.
Policymakers should also uphold our country’s commitment to reduce carbon pollution. Solar power will play a major role in any strategy to reduce global warming pollution and the carbon footprint of the energy we generate and consume.
Despite Trump, train has already left the station, says former Obama aide
U.S. President Donald Trump has initiated steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and end the Clean Power Plan. But a former advisor to President Barack Obama was anything but gloomy recently as he cited three major reasons for optimism.
Brian Deese said one reason was that economic growth has been decoupled from growth in carbon emissions. This was discovered as the United States emerged from the recession. Obama was in Hawaii when Deese informed him of the paradigm shift that had been observed.
Chastened, Deese double-checked his sources. He had been right. Always before, when the economy grew, so did greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the two have been decoupled. This decoupling blunts the old argument that you couldn’t have economic growth while tackling climate change. The new evidence is that you can have growth and reverse emissions.
The second reason for optimism, despite the U.S. exit from Paris, is that other countries have stepped up. Before, there was a battle between the developed countries, including the United States, and China, Indian and other still-developing countries. Those developing countries said they shouldn’t have to bear the same burden in emissions reductions.
But now, those same countries — Chna, India and others — want to keep going with emissions reductions even as the United States falters. They want to become the clean-energy superpowers.
“China, India and others are trying to become the global leaders in climate change. They see this as enhancing their economic and political interests,” he said. “They want to win the race.”
That same day, the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story that China plans to force automakers to accelerate production of electric vehicles by 2019. The move, said the newspaper, is the “latest signal that officials across the globe are determined to phase out traditional internal combustion engines that use gasoline and diesel fuels in favor of environmentally friendly vehicles powered by batteries, despite consumer reservations.”
The story went on to note that India has a goal to sell only electric vehicles by 2030 while the U.K. and France are aiming to end sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040.
In the telling of the change Deese said this shift came about at least partly as the result of an unintended action — and, ironically, one by the United States. Because of China’s fouled air, the U.S. embassy in Beijing and other diplomatic offices in China had installed air quality monitors, to guide U.S. personnel in decisions regarding their own health.
Enter the smart phone, which became ubiquitous in China around 2011 to 2012. The Chinese became aware of a simple app that could be downloaded to gain access to the air quality information. In a short time, he said, tens and then hundreds of millions of Chinese began agitating about addressing globalized air pollution, including emissions that are warming the climate.
A third reason for optimism, said Deese, is that Trump’s blustery rhetoric has galvanized support for addressing climate change. Some 1,700 businesses, including Vail Resorts, have committed to changes and 244 cities, representing 143 million people, have also said they want to briskly move toward renewable energy generation.
To this, Deese would like to add the conservation community, by which he seemed to mean hunters and fishermen. “In the United States, we need to reach people where they are, and communicate to them how they are being affected by climate change,” he said.
He also thinks scientists need to step up to advocate. “Use your voice,” said Deese, now a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The rest of the world is there.”
The U.S. produces about 900 billion gallons of wastewater per year from oil and gas development, such as hydraulic fracturing. Some of the reuses proposed for this water include irrigation or discharging into surface water, but the chemical content and potential health implications of this water are still largely question marks to the scientific community. Currently, this wastewater is disposed of, either through evaporation, into pits or through underground injection.
But according to recent research out of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, the question at this point isn’t even about what is in the water or if it is safe. It’s about coming up with the methods necessary for science to even tackle those questions.
Karl Oetjen, Mines doctoral candidate and one of the lead authors on the paper, published in August in “Trends in Environmental Analytical Chemistry,” said there’s no adequate way to measure the chemical makeup of the wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. All of the current methods used to test the quality of water — such as surface water, ground water and even wastewater from other sources — don’t take into account the high saline content of the water or the numerous chemicals in it. These methods weren’t intended to test water so complex, he said. And since there’s a high level of variability in the water resurfacing from each well, it’s difficult for researchers to even pinpoint what they should be testing.
“If you’re worried about introducing this water to places where it could interact with the environment or human health, it’s impossible to say if it’s dangerous or not dangerous because we simply don’t know,” Oetjen said.
He describes the process of looking for certain contaminants in surface water as looking for a needle in a haystack. But when you’re looking for contaminants in oil and gas wastewater, you’re looking for a needle somewhere in a million haystacks.
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today led 11 colleagues in introducing the Pollution Transparency Act to standardize the metric used by federal agencies to measure the cost of climate pollution. This counters a directive from the Trump administration to agencies to ignore existing metrics-uprooting years of progress and economic certainty-and an attempt made yesterday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the revised BLM methane rule to change his department’s metric without any prior consultation or transparency.
Cosponsors of the Pollution Transparency Act include Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
“We cannot stand by idly as the Trump administration blatantly disregards broad scientific consensus and economics,” Bennet said. “This irresponsible ploy to upend years of progress is playing fast and loose with the health of our nation’s children. Although we cannot avoid all of the effects of climate change, we can create market certainty about how much those effects harm our children and our economy. This legislation would ensure the federal government runs a transparent process-grounded in science, with public and industry input-to quantify those effects.”
A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Donald McEachin (D-VA-4).
“The next generation will have a better opportunity for a healthy economic and environmental future with the implementation of this bill,” McEachin said. “There are clear and undeniable costs of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in our economy: the cost of poor air quality in our neighborhoods, the loss of a day’s work when taking an asthmatic child to the doctor, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, and sea-level rise – we have had enough. We need to ensure that the federal government is accurate and consistent in calculating the price of greenhouse gases when issuing regulatory and substantial procurement decisions. We can best address the root-cause of climate change by taking an intellectually honest and evidence-based approach to quantify its impact. This method will allow us to build a more resilient infrastructure and leave a better Earth for our children and our children’s children.”
Background on the Pollution Transparency Act:
Since the George W. Bush administration, the federal government has been required to consider the economic damages that result from climate pollution in the rulemaking process. This metric was developed through a rigorous process, using the best available economics and science and revised when necessary. In March, the Trump administration directed federal agencies to ignore the existing metric and instead select their own metrics-uprooting years of progress and economic certainty.
The Pollution Transparency Act would codify a scientifically-developed value for the cost of climate pollution across all federal agencies. The requirement to consider this cost already exists; this legislation would simply streamline the regulatory process by standardizing the metric and re-establishing a process to revise it through a public process. Ultimately, it would create greater market and regulatory certainty by ensuring federal decisions are transparent, standardized, and grounded in facts.
A Fact Sheet can be found HERE. A copy of the bill text can be found HERE.
Statements in support of the legislation:
“Quantifying the true cost of GHGs helps tell the full story so that we can make more informed policy decisions. This bill move us in an appropriate direction so that we can better review how GHGs impact Colorado communities.” – Larry Wolk, Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment
“I applaud Senator Bennet’s leadership in bringing forward the Pollution Transparency Act to ensure full and accurate consideration of the cost of carbon pollution in decision-making. Ignoring proven science and clear economic risk will not make climate change disappear. Only consistent and transparent accounting for the impacts of climate change can prevent waste of taxpayer funds on subsidies for shaky infrastructure and obsolete technologies.” – Mary D. Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board (Full letter of support can be found HERE)
“The social cost of carbon is a linchpin of national climate policy, providing a guidepost to balance the costs of climate change to our economy today with the damages that have started to arrive and are projected to grow. This bill ensures that this critical guidepost continues to be robust and grounded in the latest available science and economics, while providing certainty to businesses eager to have a consistent regulatory process.” – Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Professor in Economics, the College and the Harris School and Director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago
“It is critically important for policymakers to account for the economic costs of greenhouse gas emissions in their policy decisions. These costs should be quantified using the best available science and economics, in order to inform decisions that affect public wellbeing.” – Richard Revesz, Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus and Director of the Institute of Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law
“Proper evaluation of the benefits and costs of regulations that affect emissions of greenhouse gases requires that the federal government use the best available estimate of the damages that such emissions cause. This bill would guarantee that this happens. It is consistent with a recent report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. We, the undersigned, strongly support the Pollution Transparency Act.”
– Maureen L. Cropper, Distinguished University Professor of Economics, University of Maryland
– Robert Litterman, Former Head of Risk Management, Goldman Sachs
– William Pizer, Susan B. King Professor, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
– Richard Schmalensee, Professor of Management and Economics, Emeritus, MIT, Member of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1989-1991
– Glen Hubbard, Dean of Columbia School of Business, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W. Bush
Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
Wind farm Logan County
Click here to read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:
“We need to innovate and do research on all different forms of energy,” [Martin Keller] said. “It would be a mistake to write off any — as long as the energy is carbon neutral. That’s the biggest thing, [because] burning fossil fuels is changing the environment.”
Keller took the reins at NREL, part of the network of laboratories run by the U.S. Department of Energy, at the end of November 2015. He hails from a sister DOE facility in Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he served as the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences.
He succeeds Dan Arvizu, who announced plans in March 2015 to retire from the lab after more than 10 years as its director.
From Western Resource Advocates (Jon Goldin-Dubois):
As we begin the New Year I am filled with hope for real and concrete progress to protect the incredible place we call home. The past year has provided a strong foundation that we can build upon to reduce climate pollution and to protect western rivers and landscapes. Here’s what I mean:
Coming out of the climate agreements negotiated by 195 countries in Paris that concluded in December, many of the world’s nations are expected to take their first steps to address climate change. For the U.S. and most developed nations, this means cutting carbon emissions. For developing nations, the accord calls for financial incentives that will help them leapfrog carbon intensive development. Importantly, the agreement endeavors to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (scientists argue we must keep warming to under 2 degrees Celsius to stop climate change’s most devastating impacts).
Certainly, some advocates have argued that the agreement didn’t do enough. To be truthful, I would have liked to see stronger commitments to cut carbon pollution more quickly as well. But I think the agreement provides reason for hope. I say this for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that earlier in 2015 the EPA issued the Clean Power Plan, mandating carbon pollution reductions from U.S. power plants of about 33%. Clearly that’s not enough to address the U.S. share, but it does send a very strong message to the rest of the world that the U.S. is prepared to take action. In issuing the new standards earlier this year on coal-fired power plants, the Obama administration and EPA have taken our nation’s first real steps to address the carbon pollution that we know is leading to climate change. The rules have some other compelling attributes, including cleaning up air quality in communities across the country, substantial reductions in asthma attacks and other negative health impacts of dirty air, and saving consumers money.
The Paris Agreement, coupled with the Clean Power Plan, sends a strong message to power providers but also offers some predictability (which utilities want) and sets the stage for a carbon restrained, if not a carbon free, future.
I’m also optimistic because we now know that clean energy sources such as wind and solar can compete with coal on a cost basis, and that they are getting cheaper every day. This is a big part of the reason that in 2014, far more clean, renewable energy than fossil fuel-based energy was added to the electric grid in the United States. We will soon see the 2015 numbers, but this trend is projected to continue. In 2015 major utilities in our western region stated clearly that clean, renewable wind energy is now predictably their lowest-cost source for energy generation. And several solar projects are beating coal and gas on a head-to-head basis, leading to new projects that will come on line in 2016.
My hope goes beyond recent action on climate change. The end of 2015 provided some expectation that we will begin to face up to some of the severe challenges to the health of our western rivers. In Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper signed the state’s first water plan. This year presents the first opportunity to take action that forwards the plan’s goals of conservation, reuse and water sharing. 2015 also saw Governor Sandoval in Nevada addressing the region’s water challenges as he convened a drought forum to develop solutions for Nevada. While it is still unclear what the ultimate impact of the current El Nino weather system (which can bring above average precipitation to the Colorado River Basin) will mean to the West and our water supply, it seems like it is finally sinking in that we shouldn’t rely on the weather when it comes to water. We need to take action throughout the Colorado River states to ensure that we have the water we need to serve 40 million people that rely on the River. But we also must ensure that our rivers not only sustain life in our cities, but also can continue to provide the thrilling opportunities to raft and fish, and the habitat to sustain abundant wildlife – just a few of the things that make the West so spectacular.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of challenges.
The nations of the world need to respond to the Paris agreement in the spirit with which it was crafted. Individual countries (and our states here in the West) need to respond by developing aggressive plans to reduce carbon pollution.
Our western states similarly need to take smart steps to protect and restore our rivers, as we plan for population and economic growth. This includes conservation, reuse, recycling, sharing water between urban and agriculture users, and smart storage solutions.
There are several ill-advised – okay, let’s be honest – flat out stupid plans to develop oil shale and tar sands throughout wilderness-quality lands in northeastern Utah that are still on the table. These plans need to be stopped.
We’ll take on these and other issues, like protection of Great Salt Lake and other iconic landscapes in the West, while working to find smart solutions on the climate, clean energy and river- and water-related efforts described above by building on the many successes of 2015.
Six days in to 2016, and yes, I am truly excited and hopeful about the prospects for making even more progress to protect the many places that we care about here in the West.
The fossil-fuel industry—which, for two centuries, underwrote our civilization and then became its greatest threat—has started to take serious hits. At noon today [November 6, 2015], President Obama rejected the Keystone Pipeline, becoming the first world leader to turn down a major project on climate grounds. Eighteen hours earlier, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he’d issued subpoenas to Exxon, the richest and most profitable energy company in history, after substantial evidence emerged that it had deceived the world about climate change.
These moves don’t come out of the blue. They result from three things.
The first is a global movement that has multiplied many times in the past six years. Battling Keystone seemed utterly quixotic at first—when activists first launched a civil-disobedience campaign against the project, in the summer of 2011, more than ninety per cent of “energy insiders” in D.C. told a National Journal survey that they believed that President Obama would grant Transcanada a permit for the construction. But the conventional wisdom was upended by a relentless campaign carried on by hundreds of groups and millions of individual people (including http://350.org, the international climate-advocacy group I founded). It seemed that the President didn’t give a speech in those years without at least a small group waiting outside the hall to greet him with banners demanding that he reject the pipeline. And the Keystone rallying cry quickly spread to protests against other fossil-fuel projects. One industry executive summed it up nicely this spring, when he told a conference of his peers that they had to figure out how to stop the “Keystone-ization” of all their plans.
The second, related, cause is the relentless spread of a new logic about the planet—that we have five times as much carbon in our reserves as we can safely burn. While President Obama said today that Keystone was not “the express lane to climate disaster,” he also said that “we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them.” This reflects an idea I wrote about in Rolling Stone three years ago; back then, it was new and a little bit fringe. But, this fall, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, speaking to members of the insurance industry at Lloyds of London, used precisely the same language to tell them that they faced a “huge risk” from “unburnable carbon” that would become “stranded assets.” No one’s argued with the math, and that math indicates that the business plans of the fossil-fuel giants are no longer sane. Word is spreading: portfolios and endowments worth a total of $2.6 trillion in assets have begun to divest from fossil fuels. The smart money is heading elsewhere.
Which brings us to the third cause. There is, now, an elsewhere to head. In the past six years, the price of a solar panel has fallen by eighty per cent. [ed. emphasis mine] For years, the fossil-fuel industry has labored to sell the idea that a transition to renewable energy would necessarily be painfully slow—that it would take decades before anything fundamental started to shift. Inevitability was their shield, but no longer. If we wanted to transform our energy supply, we clearly could, though it would require an enormous global effort.
Don’t you just love renewable energy capital markets moving the polluters out of the picture?
Here’s a report about the impending bankruptcy of Arch Coal from Elizabeth Shogren writing for The High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:
There’s no question that the president’s Clean Power Plan and his other air pollution regulations cloud the future of the industry. But coal’s bleak present has much more to do with other factors; chief among them the low price of natural gas and bad business decisions that the country’s biggest coal companies made in recent years. “These are undoubtedly difficult, if not unprecedented, times for the coal sector,” Glenn Kellow, chief executive officer of Peabody, the world’s largest coal company, reportedly said on the company’s recent earnings call.
Both Arch Coal and Peabody Energy paid billions of dollars to acquire metallurgical coal mines when prices of this type of coal, which is used to make steel and other metals, were soaring. The price has since collapsed, leaving the companies swamped in debt and their stock prices a small fraction of what they used to be. In Arch’s case, it spent $3.4 billion in 2011 to buy International Coal Group, Inc., acquiring 13 mines in the eastern United States. At the time, the only company more invested in metallurgical coal was Alpha National Resources, (remember that name), which was buying Massie Energy for $7.1 billion. That same year, Peabody shelled out $5.2 billion for metallurgical coal mines in Australia.
The companies borrowed to buy these metallurgical coal mines, with the expectation that Asia, especially China, would gobble up all the metallurgical coal they could produce. What they didn’t count on was the price of metallurgical coal spiraling downward due in part to increased supplies of metallurgical coal from other countries and slower growth in China. Now U.S. metallurgical coal sells for less than half what it did in 2011.
Arch’s debt comes due next year. Scrambling to avoid bankruptcy, Arch tried to get creditors to renegotiate its debt, but the effort collapsed at the end of last month. Peabody has until 2018, and yet its stock has fallen from more than $1,000 in 2011 to less than $13 this fall.
The West is largely a bystander to this high drama, except that the companies that produce the most coal in the West are caught in the middle of it. Profitable mines owned by these companies in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin likely still will operate under whatever slimmed-down companies emerge from bankruptcy or under new ownership. But underground mines, where it costs more to extract the coal, may be less lucky. Peabody’s Twentymile mine in northwestern Colorado reportedly already has experienced significant reductions in production.
Mines in the West are not immune from the other main factor vexing the coal industry: low natural gas prices. Coal’s share in electricity production dropped from 50 percent in 2005 to 39 percent in 2014, and natural gas overtook coal as the biggest electricity producer for two months this year. The Energy Information Agency expects an 8 percent decrease in total coal consumption in 2015 compared to 2014, mainly driven by electric companies shifting to low-cost natural gas. Retirement of coal-fired power plants due to the Obama administration’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards contributed, but to a lesser degree, according to the Energy Information Agency. “The big story here is gas and how cheap it is,” says Robert Godby, associate economics professor at the University of Wyoming who focuses on coal.
Here’s an essay about the risk of doing nothing about climate change from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:
Bill McKibben, a writer and activist, has made the most cogent arguments. Two years ago, after crunching the numbers, he concluded that private companies own five times more carbon in the ground than the world can possibly absorb. “On current trajectories, the industry will burn it, and governments will make only small whimpering noises about changing the speed at which it happens,” he wrote in an essay titled “A Call to Arms” that was published in the June 8 issue of Rolling Stone.
He identifies a clear problem. “The fossil-fuel industry, by virtue of being perhaps the richest enterprise in human history, has been able to delay effective action, almost to the point where it’s too late,” he wrote. [ed. emphasis mine]
McKibben’s 350.org has been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, which would export Alberta’s bitumen to refineries along the Gulf Coast. It’s largely a symbolic fight, as Michael Levi points out in his book The Power Surge. The tar/oil sands would, if fully developed, elevate atmospheric concentrations of C02 by 60 ppm. At current rates of tar/oil sands mining, that would take 3,000 years, he says. Isolating the climate debate to Alberta’s bitumen, he says, is a mistake.
But Keystone XL represents business as usual. We need accelerated change. The United States should follow the lead of British Columbia in levying a carbon tax. My impression of B.C.’s tax is that it not precisely the best model. We need a revenue-neutral tax, accelerating over time, giving the private sector clear market signals to instigate changes.
Henry Paulson, the former treasury secretary in the Bush years, made this case in an 1,800-word essay in the New York Times on June 22. A few days later, a group that includes Paulson, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Stanford’s George Schultz, who is another former treasury secretary, and a number of other high-profile individuals — including billionaire Tom Steyer — released a report titled “The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.”
Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):
The State of Colorado, as well as the other cooperating partners in the Colorado River Supply and Demand Basin Study (“Colorado River Basin Study” or “Basin Study”), were presented today with the prestigious “Partners in Conservation Award” by the Department of the Interior. This award was presented by Deputy Secretary David Hayes in recognition of the cooperation between these different entities on one of the most pressing natural resources issues in the Unites States–the future of the Colorado River basin.
The Colorado River Basin Study is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify and address future supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado River Basin. The Basin Study evaluates the reliability of the water dependent resources, and also outlines potential options and strategies to meet or reduce imbalances that are consistent with the existing legal framework governing the use and operation of the Colorado River. To date, the Basin Study has published a number of interim reports and appendices, and the final report of the Basin Study is scheduled to be published by the end of November, 2012.
Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Ted Kowalski, Chief of the Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board accepted the award on behalf of the State of Colorado. “The Basin Study reflects the cooperative spirit in which the Colorado River Basin States have worked since the adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines,” Gimbel said.“Colorado and the other Basin States, the tribes, the federal government, and the many diverse stakeholders must continue to work together in order to address the difficult water imbalances facing the southwestern United States in the next half century. It is clear that there are no silver bullets, but rather we must explore and develop multiple options and strategies in order to meet our projected future water supply/demand imbalance.”
Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:
The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West
The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.
Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.
The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.
“The real issue here with water is, ‘What are we going to do about it?’” Carl Steidtmann said. “The problem is our government entities are deeply in debt.”
Steidtmann, a Steamboat Springs resident who is chief economist for Deloitte, was the lunchtime speaker during the 2012 Summer Water and Energy Conference at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort on Wednesday. The three-day conference goes through Friday and is put on by the Colorado Water Congress. There are 240 people registered for the conference, and attendees include local politicians, state legislators and representatives from water conservancy districts, water departments and municipalities across the state.
Steidtmann’s keynote Wednesday was titled “The Regional Impact of the National Economy: Letting Go of the Status Quo for Water and Energy.”[…]
Steidtmann, who consults with Fortune 500 companies, said water is becoming an increasingly important issue for energy companies because of its increasing scarcity. To illustrate this point, he showed a map forecasting water availability in 2025. “The western part of the U.S. becomes one of those areas of critical water shortages,” Steidtmann said.
In an era of a contracting government where more money is being spent to pay off debt, Steidtmann said infrastructure projects are the ones that are easy to delay. “The money available for infrastructure projects, especially for water, is going to be very challenging,” he said.
“Environmentalism is a luxury good,” said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist for Deloitte Services. “Richer countries are more environmentally conscious.” In his view, poorer nations are more focused on the need to survive, and have a greater impact on the environment as populations grow. It takes money to protect the environment, he said. Energy development has been the greatest factor in the divide between rich and poor nations, but in the future, the availability of food and water will also have economic consequences, he said.
“We need to make sure the most water goes to the hottest fires,” said Reeves Brown, executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. He was among state officials who discussed water project funding last week at the summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress. There is an estimated $5 billion backlog in about 1,000 community water projects across the state.
Mineral severance or federal lease fund revenues are a major source of funds for Colorado water projects to provide drinking water or treat wastewater. Since 2008, the state has looked toward those cash funds to make up shortfalls in other budget areas, particularly health care, education and prisons.
About $250 million over four years in funds that would have gone to local impact grants through DOLA have been diverted. That money would have leveraged three times as much in other grants or loans, Brown said. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has seen $163 million of construction funds diverted during the same period, while making about $80 million in loans to water projects.
Here’s the link to the registration page. Here’s the description of the event (Meg Meyer):
The 2012 Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference will include water and energy interests once again as we combine forces and explore areas of common interest. The theme of the conference is The Balance of Power. We will spin the concept several different ways as we look at the balance of political power, the balance of governance, and the balance of energy and water sources.
Immediately preceding the CWC Summer Conference, the Colorado Coal and Power Generation group will hold an all-day event at the Holiday Inn in Craig on Tuesday, August 14th which will include a golf tournament and evening barbeque.
In addition, the Interim Water Resources Review Committee will meet in Steamboat, Tuesday afternoon, for their first substantive meeting to prepare for the 2013 legislative session.
The CWC Summer Conference will be held August 15th through August17th at the Sheraton in Steamboat Springs.
We will have three workshops on Wednesday morning covering topics of drought and current weather conditions, public trust, and endangered species. We will try something a little different this year with the conference kicking off with a luncheon on Wednesday. General Sessions will follow on Wednesday afternoon. An evening open public forum will held on Wednesday at 7:30 pm (attendance is optional for water and energy professionals).
We will have networking breakfasts on Thursday or Friday – a light continental breakfast will be served, but no formal speaker. The hotel restaurant or other local venues are available for those that prefer a heartier breakfast. General Sessions will be held on Thursday from 9:00 to 12:00. On Thursday afternoon, we will offer a couple of tours or you may want to use this time to catch up on other business. The POND Committee is also planning outdoor activities. We will have a reception on Thursday evening at 5:00. The Friday morning format will be similar to Thursday and the conference will conclude with a box lunch.